Must Love Dogs
Friends who take in strays start animal rescue shelter, plan first adoption event
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Dianne Hershberger, founder of Hearts of Life Animal Rescue, believes there is a dog meant for everybody. Hershberger and friends, who have taken in about 50 abandoned pets, will host an adoption event on Saturday, July 29, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Boys and Girls Club of Sulphur Springs, 201 Houston St. "There are a lot of people out there who probably need a dog just as much as the dog needs them," she said. Pictured with Hershberger are her grandchildren, Ryan and Emily Odom, ages 9 and 7.
Staff Photo By Patti Sells

July 27, 2006 -- Dog lover Dianne Hershberger always said that if she won the lottery she would open a shelter for animals. That day never came, but somehow, through the years, her home did become something of a shelter and safe haven for strays.

"I'd see a dog on the street and I would pick it up because I'd think no one else will," said Hershberger, a four-year resident of Hopkins County who fosters more than 20 pets.

"I've been known to chase them down," she added laughing.

And she has gained something just as good as money for which to make her dream come true -- jackpot's worth of friends who also carry a burden for abandoned animals and have joined her to open Hearts of Life Animal Rescue.

"I found I'm not the only one out there who has a heart for animals," said Hershberger. "I thank God there are others like me who worry about them and put out food and water. "

The group, which includes Donny Foster, Brenda Akins, Carl Smith, Carol Lortz, Joey Autrey, Lucy McCorkle and Hershberger, have opened their hearts and homes to dogs and cats that have been left to fend for themselves. Laverne Follis and Dr. David Black with Broadway Veterinary Hospital have also been instrumental to Hearts of Life from "day one," according to Hershberger. And soon the nonprofit organization will be making the animals available to the public through adoption. 

Hearts of Life will host its first adoption event Saturday, July 29, at the Boys and Girls Club of Sulphur Springs, 201 Houston St., from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A $65 fee will pay for all vaccinations, heartworm testing, and the spaying or neutering of a new pet.

"We'll have lots of fun activities going on," explained Hershberger, who said there would be face painting, karaoke, contests, raffles and door prizes. "We hope we can just get them out there. Lots of times, people see the animals and they will just fall in love with a particular one."

Hershberger's husband, Roy, as well as her children, support the animal rescue and will be on hand to help. 

Her son, Jesse Holland, is a Hollywood actor with roles in "Transporter II," HBO's "Deadwood," and Nu-Lite Film's "Color of the Cross." He currently can be seen on television shows such as "My Name is Earl," and "According To Jim." He will be on hand to sign autographed pictures. 

Melanie Blalock, Hershberger's daughter, is a country and Western singer based in Little Rock, Ark., and the youngest, Terri Kuiper, is currently living in Hopkins County and working towards her Texas law enforcement certification.

The number one goal of Hearts of Life Animal Rescue is to place abandoned and neglected animals into loving homes. The secondary goal is to raise funds to help run the shelter. 

"I think there is a dog meant for everybody," Hershberger said. "There are a lot of people out there who probably need a dog just as much as the dog needs them."

Not only do dogs provide companionship, according to Hershberger, they provide protection, comfort, entertainment and therapy.

"They are very sensitive, attentive and protective," she said. "How many times have we heard stories of dogs going for help or saving someone's life?"

Hershberger had her own story. 

She said when one of her daughters was about 9 years old, she fell from her bicycle into a ditch, breaking her arm. As a friend went for assistance, a strange dog appeared and stayed by her young daughter's side until help finally came.

"It's amazing to me how we hear story after story like that and yet people can still take their family pet and drop them off somewhere and abandon them," Hershberger said.

Hearts of Life currently houses approximately 50 abandoned dogs, most of them large pets, ranging from blue heelers and Doberman pinschers to labrador and basset hound mixes. But they do have some small to medium size dogs, as well as an occasional purebred.

Most are of the "Heinz 57" variety, but that's certainly not something Hershberger considers a drawback.

"For me, personally, those are a heartier, healthy dog," said Hershberger. "Some of the sweetest, most companionable dogs are not the ones you're caring for, but the ones caring for you."

For those unable to adopt, Hershberger hopes people will consider fostering or even just sponsoring a dog or cat.

Fostering involves taking the animal home and caring for it until it can be permanently placed. Sponsoring only involves financial support.

"We'll send you a picture and information telling you everything we know about a particular dog or cat that your money will be providing for," said Hershberger. "When it's adopted out, we'll let you know, and then you can sponsor another one if you want to." 

According to Hershberger, they need help of all kinds. Hearts of Life is looking for volunteers to help clean pens, build pens, do necessary repairs, feed and water, or maybe just come out and play with the animals.

"There's just so much we can do," said Hershberger, who said each one in the group has a full-time job or other commitments. "We can't always give them that one-on-one attention they so desperately need."

Hearts of Life is bestowing a great service to the community by picking up and taking in strays, which are considered a road hazard, health threat and nuisance. However, they are not obligated to take in pets that are no longer wanted. 

"We don't have to do this," Hershberger explained. "We're not obligated to anyone. We do this because we want to. And when we don't have room for more, we don't have room for more. The line has to be drawn somewhere, and it has been drawn. We are at our limit now. Maybe one of these days we won't ever have to turn a dog down, but right now, we don't have the facility to house but so many." 

Hearts of Life plans to host monthly adoptions at various locations throughout the community.

Most people are aware of the fact that there are more dogs and cats being born than there are people willing to adopt them. However, the actual number of unwanted animals is astounding.

Research shows that for every human born, seven puppies and kittens are born.

It is estimated that there are 52 million dogs and 57 million cats living with families in the U.S.

One female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 cats in 7 years, and one female dog and her offspring generate 67,000 puppies in 6 years.

More than 12 million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters each year with millions more abandoned.

As many as 25 percent of dogs entering shelters each year are purebreds.

Approximately 61 percent of all dogs, and 75 percent of all cats, entering shelters are exterminated.

Hearts of Life Animal Rescue is a no-kill shelter, but they need individual community members with a heart for animals to help in order to run successful operation.

For more information about adopting, fostering, sponsoring or volunteering, call 903-885-5102.

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